Jobonanno Follows in Jersey Band Tradition

Friday, October 31, 2003

Star-Ledger Staff

James Brown is known as the Godfather of Soul, so it made sense that Jobonanno and his band, the Godsons of Soul, opened for him at the Baker Ballroom in Dover in May.

This veteran New Jersey group, which will perform in Asbury Park, Lyndhurst, Manasquan and Roselle Park over the next month, isn't a soul band. It does, though, play soul-drenched, proudly retro rock 'n' roll in the Jersey bar-band tradition of groups like Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes and La Bamba and the Hubcaps.

A recent show at the Osprey in Manasquan found the band playing hard-driving originals and drawing covers from classic-rock sources like Elvis Presley ("Burning Love," "Suspicious Minds"), Van Morrison ("Wild Night"), the Rolling Stones ("Brown Sugar") and Bruce Springsteen ("So Young and In Love").

"On this street, rock 'n' roll is king," frontman Jobonanno declared on the group's original song, "Rock 'n' Roll Is King."

Jobonanno has been fronting Jersey club acts, including the Midnight Thunder Band and Jobonanno and the Hitmen, for more than 20 years. He never released a studio album until July, when the Godsons put out "Turn Up the Heat," a collection of 13 original songs, on the Linden-based Sharkskin Records label.

"This is the pinnacle of everything over the years," said Jobonanno, 44, a Roselle native who lives in Marlboro.

Born Joseph Bonanno, he has been spelling his name as one word, professionally, for years. The inspiration, he says, came when a storm blew the "e" off the "Joe" in his name on a marquee.

"It looked like one word and I said, 'Wow, that looks pretty cool.' My whole thing was, when people ask 'Where's the "e" in your name?' I say, 'Well, I took it out when Elvis died.'"

The Godsons of Soul have been together about 10 years. The name refers to the late mafioso Joseph "Joe Bananas" Bonanno (no relation) as much as James Brown. There have been some lineup changes over the years. The band now features seven musicians in addition to Jobonanno: bassist Tom Creanza, singer-percussionists Pat "The Soul-Cat" Toner and Lou Felipe, keyboardist Bruce Marson, saxophonist Dave Gonos, guitarist Dennis Miele and drummer Pat Calabrese.

Two days after the band released the album this summer, it earned some valuable exposure by performing in the parking lot before a Giants Stadium show by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Jobonanno is closer in age, though, to another king of Jersey rock, Jon Bon Jovi, and actually replaced Bon Jovi as the lead singer in one of Bon Jovi's pre-stardom bands, Atlantic City Expressway. Keyboardist David Bryan, a future member of the Bon Jovi band, was also in Atlantic City Expressway at the time.

"When Jon left, I was friends with some of the guys in the band, so I came down and auditioned, and took it from there," Jobonanno says. "But it was funny. Jon never really left the band. He was still at every rehearsal and all the gigs, and even though I was singing, he would end up doing five or six songs a night anyway. It was like, 'Are you in the band or not?'"